Healthy Talk

Small businesses with questions regarding the Affordable Care Act had a chance to get some answers Wednesday at Jamestown Community College.

The seminar covered questions small businesses have on the Affordable Care Act, tax credits available for businesses, how they will be affected and the resources available to navigate the health care.

The Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as “Obamacare,” is a federal mandate. Since its inception in November, and the subsequent difficulties with the website, many were left reeling as old coverages were dropped and the costs of premiums rose.

Melanie Booth, a health insurance access coordinator, for Chautauqua Opportunities Inc., gave a quick rundown on the new policies presented by the health care act and why certain old policies were dropped.

The 10 essential health benefits needed to pass the federal mandate are: outpatient treatment, hospitalization, mental health and substance abuse treatment, prescription drugs, preventive care and disease management, emergency services, rehab, lab tests, pediatric services, and maternity and newborns.

The reason many old plans were dropped was because they did not include now-essential benefits or they were a premium. There are five plans individuals can choose from, although the catastrophic coverage is only available to Americans under 30 with hardship exemptions.

Curt Anderson, a business adviser for the Small Business Development Center, started by giving a quick checklist for owners to go through when choosing a new coverage plan: Evaluate the current health plan; consider the amount they may be willing to contribute to the health plan; compare options; and ask tax advisers if they are qualified for the Small Business Health Credit.

When the ACA was originally passed in 2010, the penalty for employers who did not sign on to the health care act began Jan. 1 at the beginning of this year. However on July 2, 2013, the Department of Treasury announced a delay for businesses to 2015. This means employers will now have more time to conform to the new rule. However, just because the employers may have more time, that doesn’t mean the employees do.

“They have to have health insurance. Every U.S. citizen has to have health insurance,” Anderson said. “We are on the clock. That is a concern for your employees.”

Anderson gave employers an idea of the penalties their employees would have to incur if they did not pick up a coverage. While businesses which employ less than 50 full-time people do not have to legally offer coverage, Anderson brought up the point in competition and morally, it would be a good idea.

Bruce Gleason, a tax preparer and financial adviser from Young Tax Service, said small businesses with fewer than 25 full-time employees with average annual wages below $50,000 can get tax credits in previous years up to 35 percent to help pay for their employee premiums. The credits increase to 50 percent going forward.

“The biggest issue you are going to run into is that is only for two years right now,” Gleason said. “This is the same credit you’ve been seeing year after year after year, but the only way you can get it is if you go through SHOP (Small Business Health Options Program).”

Businesses can go to various organizations for help in navigating through the labyrinth of the health care act, such as brokers, like Gleason of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce, and navigators. Navigators are people and groups which are familiar with the health care law, and will be able to help small businesses and individuals alike choose the best plan.

“What we have to offer as brokers is that we can do that progression,” said Greg Krauza, director of member development at the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce. “Do you belong in a private plan or public plan? I don’t recommend anyone go to the exchange on their own. If you are not a sole proprietor or a small business, then I would highly recommend going to a navigator.”

Two navigators are the New York State of Health (previously called the New York Health Benefit Exchange) which can be reached toll-free at 1-855-355-5777 or Chautauqua Opportunities can be reached at 661-9430.